I had an interesting conversation with my mom today. She was talking about Lent, ashes and Baptists. She had my attention. Mom, though a career Methodist, is not quite as schooled on all things religious. Bless her heart. She wanted me to explain Lent to her.
Here’s what I said…
Lent is the 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter (not counting Sundays) where we practice self-denial in preparation for the death and resurrection of Jesus. We fast for 40 days because we are preparing for what is to come…just as Jesus fasted for 40 days in the desert in preparation for his public ministry.
There are lots of other forties in the Bible that are significant…Moses spent forty days on Mount Sinai. Elijah spent forty days and nights walking to Mount Horeb. God made it rain for forty days and nights on Noah. The Hebrew people wandered for forty years looking for the Promised Land. Jonah gave Ninevah forty days to repent.
That’s pretty much Lent in a nutshell.
Then mom was like, “well, what are the ashes for?”
So I said…
Well, they burn the palm branches from last year’s Palm Sunday service to make the ashes.
Ashes are symbolic for us, because of the ancient tradition of throwing ashes over your head as a sign of repentance before God. Then, there’s the Scripture out of Genesis that says we are dust and to dust we shall return.
Mom says, “But Baptists don’t do all that…do they?”
Well, not usually, though this year the First Baptist Church here did have an Ash Wednesday service, complete with black, ashy crosses on the foreheads…and they’re even celebrating Lent this year.
Mom said, “Oh.”
I asked why she was suddenly so interested in all this stuff, and she said that she had a conversation with a die-hard Baptist about all of it, and came out of it quite confused.
This particular guy told her that Baptists don’t do Ash Wednesday and Lent, because it is Catholic. He said that Baptists were around before Catholics, because they derived straight from John the Baptist. Since the Catholics added all of that stuff, the Baptists don’t do it, because that’s not what John the Baptist did.
Hmm…interesting. You probably don’t want to get into an argument over religion, but he’s wrong. I’m not a Baptist scholar, so I can’t quite comment with 100% accuracy, however I’m pretty sure the Baptist church came out of the same Reformation process that all the other Protestant churches came from. I’d put their development as a church in the 1500s to 1600s. See, it got a kick-start when Martin Luther put his 95 Theses on that church door, though from all I’ve read and observed about the Baptist church, I’d assume they derived more from a breed of Puritans and Calvinists…both also church reform groups stemming from the Catholic Church/Church of England. And yes…we later grew out of that same movement…
Mom said, “Oh…well, isn’t it cute that he thinks his church stems from John the Baptist? Though, it’s sort of judgmental of him to think that First Baptist Church shouldn’t be able to call itself a Baptist church since they celebrated Ash Wednesday.”
Okay…so after this stimulating discussion, I did a bit of research that puts a date of 1608/1609 on the establishment of the first Baptist church…and it was in Holland…and it was established by John Smyth and Thomas Helwys.
Here’s my take on the whole thing…
Thank God I belong to a connectional and methodical church that traces its history and “believes” in the “holy catholic church.” And before people get all in a tizzy about what I mean by “holy catholic church,” I’ll give you the explanation I was given in my church’s Confirmation classes when I was in 6th grade. I still remember, partly because I thought learning a cool-sounding Greek word was fun – yes, I’ve always been a nerd.
The word catholic is a form of the Greek word “katholikos,” which means “of the whole.” Therefore, catholic is referring to the universal church…i.e. all Christians everywhere…not the Roman Catholic Church.
So see, I’m open-minded enough to believe that all Christians (whether Methodist, Baptist or otherwise) are pretty much on the same page. The differences aren’t biblical (for the most part – and I still don’t understand the no musical instruments thing in the Church of Christ or the no dancing in the Baptist Church, since both were in the Bible), but are instead practical in nature.